*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.
There were some big races this weekend and the car counts were quite good, weren’t they?
Richard: We have been hearing for the better part of this year how tire shortages and fuel prices are going to wreak havoc on the Dirt Late Model racing world, and to some degree, it probably has on some levels. However, this past weekend did not really show that. There were several big races around the country and the teams showed up in very good numbers.
The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, for the first time in the event’s history, sanctioned the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pennsylvania with two nights worth of preliminary races followed by a $50,000-to-win show on Saturday night. A total of 54 Super Late Model cars were on the grounds for that event ultimately won by Tim McCreadie.
As part of the Firecracker 100 event at Lernerville, a Rush Crate Late Model affair that would eventually award victor Mark Whitener $20,000 drew an impressive 56 machines to the western Pennsylvania facility.
The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series co-sanctioned, along with the DIRTcar Summer Nationals, the St. Louis Firecracker Faceoff event at Federated Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Missouri on Friday and Saturday nights where the sweeping Dennis Erb Jr. would collected $10,000 and $20,000 respectively. Those two races drew 46 and 47 cars for the two-night affair.
Also, 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tennessee hosted the J.T. Kerr Memorial for the Crate Racin’ USA Series. Jason Welshan walked away with the $10,040 first prize in a race that saw 50 drivers sign in for competition including 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
I believe it helped the races at Lernerville and I-55 to have multiple races at the same location so that, once there, the hauler did not have to be moved. Also, of course, all series have instituted some sort of tire limitations, that perhaps were needed even before the pandemic. But more, as I have said in this forum before, there are a lot of smart people out there who will just find ways to work things out somehow. I believe that is what we are seeing.
Whatever this economic situation is, it won’t last forever. When it is over, the sport of racing may very well find itself in better shape than it was before because of the adapting it had to do during this time.
Michael: One thing I have been discussing with promoters and series directors is where things are going with regard to tires. Almost all of them have said they were surprised the car counts are where they are now. Many anticipate this will not last long.
One thing you pointed out is many of these races are multi-night events. That has been the growing trend the last few years, especially with races sanctioned by Lucas Oil. These racers are good for drivers. As you said, teams don’t have to load up and travel 3-4 hours away the next night. That certainly has to be a draw for drivers with increasing fuel prices.
These races are a mixed bag for the promoters. Twenty years ago, when tracks ran multiple night events, there was qualifying and heat races one night and a 100-lap feature the second night. Promoters didn’t have to pay out any money on the first night. Now, track owners are paying out on all nights. If the crowd is down on any of those “preliminary” nights, it makes it tough for them to make money. It’s a double-edge sword.
Purses seem to be ever increasing in dirt racing. Where is the money coming from?
Richard: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series contested its High Bank Nationals this past weekend in which eventual Saturday night winner Sheldon Haudenschild collected $100,000 for his efforts. It was announced before the start of that race that next year’s main event will dole out $250,000 to the winner.
So far in 2022, Dirt Late Model racing has seen Jonathan Davenport score a $1,000,000 payday in the second running (first in 2001) of the Eldora Million at Eldora Speedway. Also, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series has just completed a run in which it had contested four consecutive $50,000 features as part of racing weekends. The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series has seen increases in both its points funds and many of its individual race payouts. The XR Super Series and the FloRacing Night in America tours have offered up generous purses as well throughout the first half of the 2022 season.
And keep in mind, we haven’t fully gotten into the portion of the season that is typically most known as the big money part of the schedule.
I believe these influxes of money have come about because of a perfect storm of conditions that have all hit at the same time.
First, most states and local governments have either lifted or reduced the restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic. As a result, people are ready to go out and live some life. For some, that living of life involves going to a race track and promoters, who had to be creative in order to survive the pandemic, are now looking to draw those fans back to their facilities. And there’s no better way to do that than to stage big events with big stars.
Second, the relatively new way of presenting races through streaming networks is still being explored. The multiple streaming services have to do things that will get them noticed by potential subscribers, and just like with promoters, there is no better way to do that than with big events.
Further on the streaming point, I don’t believe the streaming shows have great impacts on big races such as national touring events. Where they take their greatest toll, I think, is on regional and local racing because fans realize they can stay home and watch the big stars rather than drive to a track for a weekly show.
Finally, I am a big believer in capitalism (I know that’s a dirty word in some circles nowadays) but I believe the competition between all of the various tours and tracks is forcing everyone to produce a better product. As a result, more big races have come about.
Michael: That is the big question I hear from a lot of people – where is the money coming from? Some of these events have some good sponsorship behind them. If a track is able to do that and cultivate a long-term relationship, their event seems to be on solid footing for several years.
I’m not sure how much streaming alone is covering the purses for some of these events. Assuming the numbers they give out are correct, there is money to be made there that can be passed off to holding these events. But, that doesn’t take into account what they have to pay employees to work these races, etc.
I still believe in old-fashioned promoting to get fans through the gates. Regardless of what the other numbers are, fans in the stands is what dictates if these races are successful.
The over 40 crowd is doing well for itself in the Dirt Late Model racing world this season, aren’t they?
Richard: The 40+ drivers certainly showed out this past weekend with a $50,000 LOLMDS win by 48-year-old Tim McCreadie in the Firecracker 100 and a pair of WoO Late Model victories by 49-year-old Dennis Erb Jr. at Federated Raceway at I-55. Chris Madden is having the best season of his career at the age of 47 while drivers such as Dale McDowell, Jimmy Owens and Shane Clanton have also earned nice paydays during the course of the season.
McCreadie was the 2021 Lucas Oil champion and Erb currently leads the WoO standings.
Unlike sports such as football and basketball where physical deterioration really takes its toll, auto racing allows its stars to remain competitive for much longer as experience, determination, and know-how tend to play a greater role than does physical strength and speed. For that reason, we tend to see racers have much greater longevity than participants of other sports (although Tom Brady might disagree).
As a 54-year-old myself, I’m kind of glad to see the “old guys” doing so well.
Michael: It really looked like the last season or two the young guys were about to take over the sport. Brandon Overton, Tyler Erb, and Hudson O’Neal are just some drivers that come to mind that were winning races and looked to be the present of the sport, not the future of the sport.
I’m not sure why the “older guys” are having such terrific years this year aside from experience, hard work, and having some circumstances fall their way. One could argue Dennis Erb Jr. is benefiting from the Rocket house car leaving the WoO tour. While there is some truth to that, Erb was having a good season before the #1 car left for another series.
Regardless of the reasons, us “old guys” have to stick together.
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